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Make Your Marketing Budget Work - Halve It

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Some time ago, just after the release of "Spiderman 3," I visited a public toilet somewhere in central New York. As I entered, I noticed a gap in the long line of urinals. One was missing. Strange, I thought.

Then something caught my eye. The urinal wasn't missing at all. It was, well, elevated. There it was, hanging from the ceiling, and beside it on the wall was a message: "Spiderman 3—out now."

I'll never forget it.

Nor will I forget that Tom Dickson from Blendtec chucked his iPhone into a household blender. He pressed the smoothie button and asked, "Will it blend?" (In case you're curious—yes, it did blend!)

Week after week, Tom tested the blendability of such items, and the ultra powerful Blendtec blender managed to pulverize them all. (See video of another alternative marketing technique.) 

But I do tend to forget all those diet, car, insurance, bank, credit card, exercise equipment, who-knows-what commercials and infomercials. And most banner ads, almost every billboard, and all those direct mails. They never even make it to my memory bank.

What makes the difference between these starkly different categories of communication—the magically memorable and the utterly forgettable? Are there any driving forces that could be common denominators for the success of the first category and the regrettable nature of the second group?

It so happens that the blender ritual and the "Spiderman 3" installation were created by companies with severe budget constraints. And the endless mass of infomercials and bland advertisements emanate from companies with nice media budgets.

It is interesting to note that very few companies with generous budgets come up with truly memorable ideas. In fact, a comfortable budget seems to dilute their imaginative resources. Sometimes a big marketing budget puts the breaks on creative thinking.

Now, I know that every marketing director reading this will curse the suggestion, but here goes... Cut your marketing budget in half.

Throw your marketing plan in the bin and start all over. You'll be forced to be creative. Suddenly you won't be able to comfortably do what you did last time. Maybe what you've always done. When you have the budget to carry on as before, along a seemingly safe path, why change the approach?

But that safe path is more likely to be a rut you can't get out of. You recycle old ideas, reuse media plans, imagine you're breathing life into expired thoughts. This can tire a brand out to the point of stagnation.

As my dad always said, if you follow the leader's tracks in the snow, you'll never get ahead of him.

So what's the trick to starting afresh? Be prepared to seriously start over and establish strategies to keep your brand from falling into that rut to nowhere.

Here are some ideas to kick-start your new approach.

1. I'll bet a lot of your budget is dedicated to activities that no-one has ever questioned... like ads in Yellow Pages, your annual catalog, or some ongoing sponsorship that has more to do with the boss's passion than relevant brand-building. Starting over means entirely over. So no holy cows here. Right from the start, secure a mandate to throw out what's not working, and introduce what does.

2. Cutting your marketing budget in half also means that your current advertising agency might be too expensive. Or too conservative, because you've been forced by them into that rut. So examine their potential. Can they achieve that great thinking, or do you need to find a new creative partner?

3. Great ideas can be cheap and accessible. Initiatives like make it possible to seek and buy great ideas—online. The process is simple: post your brief, receive creative ideas from creative professionals and untested amateurs from all over the world. You only need one great idea to crack it.

4. Use media channels in untraditional ways. Billboards are flat, so go 3D. Banner ads are passive, so make them interactive. TV ads are glossy, so make them imperfect. If you really want to spend your money on traditional media, approach its unconventionally.

* * *

I'm sure you'll strike obstacles and roadblocks on your way out of the rut. But the creativity you seek is a matter of daring.

So if this prospect makes you uncomfortable, it may be time to shake off the yoke of conservatism, leap out of the rut, and cut your marketing budget in half.

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Martin Lindstrom ( is the author of Brand Child, BRAND sense, and Buyology (October 2008).

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  • by Kay Tue Mar 25, 2008 via web

    Great ideas in this article, but Martin, you need an editor. "Sometimes a big marketing budget puts the breaks on creative thinking"? Excuse me, don't you mean "brakes"?

  • by Kathy Jo Tue Mar 25, 2008 via web

    Love this article. Yes, often it's the little things that are big! I used to work with a creative director that always said, "look at what others are doing....and DON'T do that!"

  • by Michael Lombardi Tue Mar 25, 2008 via web

    Nice post, Martin. I just linked to it:

  • by David Mulobole Wed Mar 26, 2008 via web

    I strongly agree, the smaller the budget that you have to work with the more creative you must be in order to make a powerful impact. Big budgets have a tendency of leading their patrons into doing the expected, while lean budgets necessitate unconventional thinking.

  • by Bryson Mon Mar 31, 2008 via web

    Some nice thoughts here Martin, how ever i must put another slant on your Dad's comment "if you follow the leader's tracks in the snow, you'll never get ahead of him". I led a team of downhill mountain bikers with this thought in mind and came a couple of inches within breaking my back! Why? because I didn't follow the well trodden path in front of me! The same applies to marketing campaigns in many ways. Some things work and others do not. The trick is knowing when to break away from the path whilst minimizing the risk of marketing injury. There is much to be learnt by following the leader, particularly because the leader is often the first one to hit the obstacles head on. Leaving the rest us to learn the lesson afforded by there mistakes. I suggest that we learn from successful campaigns and seek to imitate and innovate on the lessons learned. Disruptive idea's are easy to come by and for the very few that do work, there are many, many, many more that do not!

  • by Tim Dempsey Mon Mar 31, 2008 via web

    Great post. During the planning phase, I take companies through an exercise: prioritize your plans based on a 50% reduction, and again based on a 50% increase. It is incredibly revealing, and cuts way back to what are the core goals and key strategies for the business. And brings true focus to the planning!

  • by Varun Badhwar Fri Apr 18, 2008 via web

    Great Words Byron..


    Varun Badhwar

  • by Varun Badhwar Fri Apr 18, 2008 via web

    I meant bryson.. Sorry.

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